Understanding HIV Symptoms: A Comprehensive Guide

Dinesh Patel
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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hiv symptoms

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a serious infection affecting the immune system, making individuals susceptible to various infections and illnesses.

It’s vital to be aware of the symptoms associated with HIV at different stages of infection. 

However, the presence of symptoms alone is not a reliable indicator of HIV infection, as some individuals may not experience any noticeable signs. 

The best way to know if you are infected is to confirm through an HIV test. 

This article will delve into the HIV symptoms at different stages and what happens when you leave them untreated. 

Stage 1: Acute HIV infection

Within 2 to 4 weeks of exposure to HIV, individuals may enter the acute stage, characterized by flu-like symptoms. 

Around 80% of people who have HIV experince symptoms similar to flu. 

Approximately two-thirds of people may experience:

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Chills and Sudden cold sensations
  • Skin abnormalities such as rash
  • Excessive sweating during sleep
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore or pain in the throat
  • Fatigue or persistent tiredness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sores in the mouth

It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be similar to those caused by other illnesses. 

If there is a suspicion of HIV exposure, it is imperative to get tested as soon as possible.

Stage 2: Chronic HIV infection

hivSource: ktsimage_from_GettyImages
HIV blood sample

Stage 2 is also known as asymptomatic HIV and clinical latency.

Low levels of virus replication characterize this stage, and individuals may not exhibit any symptoms. 

Even if there are no symptoms, people with HIV can still transmit the virus. 

Without treatment, this stage can last for a decade or more. Regular medical check-ups monitor the viral load. 

Individuals on effective HIV treatment can lead long and healthy lives, with an undetectable viral load preventing transmission to HIV-negative partners.

As the immune system weakens, individuals in the second stage become increasingly susceptible to opportunistic infections. Common infections, which a healthy immune system would easily control, can become severe and life-threatening.

Stage 3: AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

If HIV remains is left untreated, it can progress to AIDS, the late stage of infection. Symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Unexplained and significant weight loss.
  • Recurring fever or night sweats
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Swelling of lymph glands like armpits, groin, or neck
  • Diarrhea persistent for more than a week
  • Sores on mouth, anus, or genital sores
  • Inflammation of the lungs
  • Skin abnormalities such as red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches
Recommended Article
To know in detail about the skin abnormalities due to AIDS, read AIDS Lesions: The Prevalence of AIDS-Induced Skin Conditions

It is crucial to seek medical attention if experiencing these symptoms, as it can weaken the immune system. 

Effective treatment can prevent the progression of AIDS.

Other illnesses and complications

Without proper treatment, HIV can lead to severe complications, including:

  • Tuberculosis (TB): Increased susceptibility to Tuberculosis infection due to weakened immunity
  • Cryptococcal meningitis: A fungal infection affecting the brain and spinal cord
  • Severe bacterial infections: Vulnerability to various bacterial infections that may become severe due to a compromised immune system
  • Cancers: Increased risk of developing certain cancers, such as lymphomas and Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Aggravation of other infections: HIV can exacerbate the effects and progression of other infections like hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and smallpox 

Treatment options

The treatment of HIV involves a multi-faceted approach that includes emergency post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for potential exposure, regular monitoring, and the use of antiretroviral drugs.

Emergency HIV drugs (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis – PEP)

  • PEP should be initiated within 72 hours of exposure for it to be effective
  • It is typically recommended after higher-risk exposures, especially when the partner is known to be HIV-positive
  • PEP involves a one-month course of daily HIV treatment and may have some side effects

Antiretroviral drugs

Various antibiotics in packetsSource: Denisfilm_From_Getty_Images
Antiretroviral drugs
  • Antiretroviral medicines are the primary treatment for HIV, aiming to inhibit the replication of the virus in the body
  • Typically, individuals take between 1 and 4 pills a day, with the specific combination tailored to the individual
  • The effectiveness of treatment is gauged by measuring the viral load. An undetectable viral load is a goal achieved by most individuals within 6 months of starting treatment


Recognizing the symptoms of HIV at different stages is important for early detection and timely intervention. 

The acute stage, occurring within 2 to 4 weeks post-exposure, often manifests as flu-like symptoms. 

These may include elevated body temperature, chills, skin abnormalities, muscle aches, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. 

The chronic stage, also known as asymptomatic HIV, is characterized by low virus replication, and individuals may not display noticeable symptoms. 

Without treatment, this stage can persist for a decade or more, progressing to AIDS.

The symptoms of AIDS include unexplained weight loss, recurring fever, extreme tiredness, 

swelling of lymph glands, persistent diarrhea, and various skin abnormalities. 

Seeking medical attention promptly when experiencing these symptoms is crucial, as opportunistic infections can arise due to a weakened immune system.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the first symptoms of HIV?

The initial symptoms of HIV vary but can include fever, fatigue, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, body rash, and muscle/joint pain. However, not everyone experiences symptoms; some may remain asymptomatic during the early stages.

Can HIV be present without any symptoms?

Yes, during the chronic stage of HIV infection, also known as asymptomatic HIV or clinical latency, individuals may not exhibit any symptoms. However, they can still transmit the virus. This stage can last for decades without appropriate treatment.

How long can you have HIV without knowing?

The time between HIV infection and symptom appearance varies widely. Some may develop symptoms within weeks, while others remain asymptomatic for years. Many people can live with HIV without knowing it due to no noticeable symptoms. HIV can only be detected through specific testing.

What are the stages of HIV?

HIV progresses through three main stages. The acute stage occurs shortly after infection, with no flu-like symptoms. The clinical latency stage, lasting years, involves low-level viral replication with mild or no symptoms. Without treatment, HIV can progress to AIDS, the advanced stage marked by severe immune system damage.

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